Posts Tagged ‘vellum’

The Three Quire Theory

August 4, 2015

Over the last year or so I’ve begun to wonder if the bifolios of the Voynich Manuscript may actually be cut from some larger folio stock, which was originally in the form of three or four large, blank quires. If I am correct, I personally think the implications of it, and the opportunities afforded by it, are enormous.

The seed of this idea was in wondering just what form the blank vellum stock might have been in, if found by a 20th century forger. Somehow, finding a pre-bound, blank quarto-size book with 18 quires, and over 200 pages (as the Voynich is, today), not to mention fold outs, did not seem so likely. So I thought, perhaps the maker found a large, blank roll, or a stack of vellum. But after studying the problem, and noting various observations by others, I think the source may have simply been three or four blank quires, of 4 or 5 bifolios each. Here is a list of the observations which led me to this theory:

1) Odd Quire Numbers: The quire numbers of the Voynich have some notable problems. Nick Pelling, in his book, The Curse of the Voynich, has an excellent and very complete description of these numbers, and why they are somewhat unusual. He feels that some seem to be original, but some may have been added later, in different hands, and in an odd mix of styles. Nick even feels some were written with a steel nib pen, making them quite modern. But then one might ask, why would the Voynich have needed quire numbers added? That is, it is composed of 18 quires, so why didn’t the original creator originally use quire numbers on all quires? I began to wonder if this was because the source of the calfskin was from a limited number of quires… larger quires, cut down, but with some original quire numbers still being used. And then, there simply were not enough of them to number all of the Voynich’s 18 quires.

Also, the quire numbers are in an odd place on the Voynich, in the lower corner of the pages. According to the book Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Clemens & Graham, 2007), quire numbers are normally centered at the bottom of the first or last page of a quire. But in the Voynich, on the side, they are about where they would be if an existing, folio-size quire was cut into quarters, and folded. These resulting, smaller bifolios could be folded next to the original quire numbers, and they would end up near the edge or a fold of a page.

2) The size: A usual folio page, it turns out, can range from between about 12 inches to 16 inches wide, or even more, and be 18 to 24 inches high. The bifolios can be, therefore, 24 to more than 32 inches wide, and taller than two Voynich pages are high. This would mean that one could easily cut four Voynich’s quarto bifolios from one full size bifolio. Since one bifolio is two leaves and four pages, 16 pages could be got from one large bifolio. This then means that a five bifolio large quire could produce 80 Voynich pages, and so only three such quires would be needed to make the whole manuscript, as it originally consisted of 240 pages.

3) Fold outs: The somewhat anachronistic use of fold out pages, and folded “rosettes” map of the Voynich, have been noted by various scholars. It is either rare, or unheard of, to see such fold outs used in the 15th century. And so, for me, it has been one of those “Nagging Signs of Newness”, which I feel point to a modern origin of the Voynich. But beyond that, they make sense with my Three Quire Theory: Large folios would offer enough material, of the correct dimensions, to cut these from. Below see the rosettes fold out, laid against a (very) approximate large folio.

Was the Rosettes page cut from an existing, large, Bifolio?

Was the Rosettes page cut from an existing, large, Bifolio?

4) White edges: While I was mulling all of this over, Dana Scott related an interesting observation he made when he examined the Voynich Manuscript years ago: That some edges of the pages seemed to be much “whiter” than others, as though they were cut more recently than other edges, and therefore showing the cleaner inside of the animal skin. My thought was that perhaps this meant that the sheets were more recently cut along those edges, from larger stock, as per this theory. Dana did not note which edges looked lighter, but of course I would now be curious to know. And furthermore, if this theory is correct, it might be an aid to “reassembling” all the Voynich’s bifolios into the state they were before being cut.

5)  Repairs & Scars: A few days ago I was wondering at this theory again, and went back to read Mr. Pelling’s book again. I wanted to see what other clues it may offer… especially as I remembered that he had “virtually” lined up various scars and repairs, hoping they might be a clue as to the placement of the bifolios on the original skins they were cut from. Of course Nick and I have entirely different conclusions based on his observations, as we do on many issues. To make it clear, Nick does not support my forgery theories in any way. But his observation that certain repairs and scars on some bifolios seem to imply their being from the same source, and show their original relationship, as the repairs line up across them, supports not only his idea that some bifolios are from the same skin, but also, my idea they may be from the same, original, larger folios: Because Nick’s alignment not only allowed for the placement of some bifolios on the same skins, but even placed them both next to, and below and above one another! You can see this on his illustration on page 54, in Chapter 4, “Jumbled Jigsaws”, in which the bifolios f16r/f9r and f10v/f15r have tear repairs that line up, as thought they were originally next to one another. Then, on the ensuing pages, he shows how the f38v/f35r and f36v/f37r bifolios line up in a similar way, this time, on top of one another. Below I show the first example, with the approximate alignment of the repairs marked, as Nick notes. But rather than use Nick’s skin outline, I’ve placed these two Voynich bifolios on my speculative, larger, blank bifolio.

Conclusions, testing, and implications: Given the above points, I think it is plausible that the original source of the Voynich material may have been a few blank quires. I further think it possible they were found by Wilfrid Voynich when he purchased the Libreria Franceschini in Florence, in 1908. It was a vast repository of over a half a million items, from useless scrap, to valuable treasures, which were accumulated by the previous owner over a four decade span. It is not at all unreasonable to consider, I think, that a few unused quires might have been found among these mountains of materials.

"Dark Room" of the Libraria Franceschini

“Dark Room” of the Libraria Franceschini

And very importantly, if the Voynich was cut from larger, blank stock, originally in the form of blank quires, I think it can be proven to a reasonable extent. This can be done by the alignment of repairs, the position of the whiter (newer) cut edges, the relative thickness of the skin along those edges, the positions of the original quire numbers, and possibly other clues which would occur to one during such an attempt. And then, if this theory is found correct, I feel there is no reasonable alternative explanation to this having been done, other than that old, existing blank stock was used to create the Voynich as a modern forgery.

Proof of Concept

March 9, 2012

A proof of concept is an example of a similar situation to the one you are theorizing, which shows that some element of that theory may be possible. It does not actually prove the theory. It does not really advance the theory itself. What it does is rebut, to varying degree, the opposition or complaint that your theory cannot be possible. To what level it then shows the plausibility of the theory is a matter of conjecture, not really quantifiable, and subject to many factors… some highly subjective. But a proof of concept is still very valuable, as it moves a theory into the realm of possibility. I have a list of various proofs of concept for my optical and New Atlantis theories, which address many complaints about that theory. But I recently came across a new, and very important example, which addresses several of the most common and widespread negatives, as voiced by those who do not think the theory likely, or even, possible.

Here is a list of some of the objections to my theory, which are all addressed by this recent find of mine:

  1. No one would make a book to look hundreds of years older than it was.
  2. Vellum was too expensive to use for all but the most important, and real, reasons.
  3. The skill and time it would take to make a large vellum book would mean it was done only by dedicated scribes.
  4. Blank vellum has always been very rare, and the later past it’s heyday, the rarer.

And then I found the Chittenden book. Ironically, I was not even looking for it, I was looking at another book in the Lucius Chittenden collection in the University of Vermont.

Lucius Eugene Chittenden was born on May 24, 1824, in Williston Vermont. He became a lawyer, a historian, peace advocate, abolitionist, banker, US Treasury official, friend of Abraham Lincoln… and a prolific book collector and lover. He took at least two trips to Europe, no casual feat in the 19th century. I first came across the man’s collection because he happened to own a manuscript which I consider very similar to the Voynich. This “Italian Herbal” (see link), is attributed to the late 15th century, and written in two hands. The general style, coloring, and the habit of writing around the herbal drawings, I find strikingly close to the Voynich. As an interesting aside of the “C14 tail wagging the dog”, this very similar herbal is often sidestepped AS an example in Voynich research, as it is “too late”. But it was this paragraph, in the bio of Mr. Chittenden, that jumped out at me,

 “One of the more fascinating books in the collection is his own translation of Les Singularitez de la France Antarctique by Thevet (Paris, 1558).  “The volume is Chittenden’s work completely except for the fine morocco binding.  Done on 100 leaves of vellum in Chittenden’s distinctive hand printing, with multi-colored initials, full page line drawings in ink, and marginal figures of soldiers, birds, and animals. . . (Buechler, pp. 45).”

And that is the book from which I have excerpted the samples in this post. They do not appear anywhere else on the internet, nor, apparently, are they reproduced in any book. And then, I would like to point out, this example would not be a subject of any study, in any university, and would be unfamiliar to any expert who was consulted on the subject of “books on vellum made to look older than they were”. It is part of what I have been learning is a new discipline, pretty much undocumented, and which stands alone. I only suspected, when I began looking, that such a category of book must exist, although I have been, and still am told, that it would not, and cannot, exist: An illustrated, colored manuscript made as recreation/adaptation of an older work, on vellum, made to look much older than it is.

(shhh! This does not exist.)

So why did Chittenden make this work? I suppose we could easily deduce he loved the original, and wanted to produce his own copy. But he then took the time to translate it into English (it is a wonderful read, by the way, and ought to be published in it’s entirety). But while making this work, he chose to make it on vellum. He did so, I would again presume, to make it look old, like the original. And where did one find 100 sheets of unused vellum, in 1868? My previous research shows that blank vellum must have always been available, and I know it is, even today, so I am not too surprised at this. Perhaps he got it on one of his jaunts to Europe, or maybe he found an old stock in the United States. But there it is, he found it. And likewise, he found time to make it. This was a very busy man, by any standard. So rather than him needing to dedicate years or decades to producing it, he managed to serve Lincoln, the Treasury, his family, write several important histories about the civil war, slavery and politics in general… and, on the side, write and illustrate a 200 page copy of a 300 plus year old book, and on vellum at that.

So what does this mean to my theories? Well it does not of course prove anything directly. But what it does is show that several of the concepts which are necessary to accept the possibility of the theory, were actually used, historically, by others. Of course this one example is from a later time than I suspect the Voynich was created, by 268 years. And we do not know when this vellum was made… although I would love to see a C14 dating of it… and so it does not support my contention that old vellum may have been used for the Voynich. But I have other examples that do that. What is most telling is that Chittenden wanted to make a book look 300 years older than it actually was, while I only suspect about 150 to 200 years for the Voynich.

My other “proofs of concept” have been outlined in other posts on this blog: The Chymical Wedding is a fictional book made in my time frame, and in cipher, and meant to look like an older work; then there are my examples of blank vellum lying around, historically, ready for use, and even, used for centuries (reinforced, again, by this new example); the low cost of vellum, historically; the use of fake books as props and art forms, from the late 16th century, to today… and now I add the Chittenden book, which is a perfect, real example of a book lover finding enough blank vellum to letter and illustrate his own copy of a 300 year old book. No doubt there will be objections… of course I am quite aware of them, myself, in that I realize what this shows and what it does not. But at this point, for anyone to postulate that the Voynich “cannot be” made when and for what reasons I suspect it is, or even, that it is “unlikely” that this is so, really has the burden of proof from their perspective, not mine.

Old Blank Vellum Sitting Around?

June 30, 2011

It has often been claimed, both before and after the release of the radiocarbon dating of the Voynich leaves, that it would have been either unlikely or impossible for the book’s creator to have found old vellum to make it from. This assumption has been used to presume the manuscript must have been made soon after the radiocarbon date of the vellum, which is approximately 1404-1438. It has been said that the cost of vellum and parchment throughout history has meant that it would not have ever been stored, blank, for long periods of time. And furthermore, the case of the palimpsest has been used to show that the value of vellum was so great that the religious scribes painstakingly bleached and scraped ancient manuscripts to reuse them. While all these may be true to some extent, during some times, in some places, what I have found is that it is not at all improbable that a Voynich author may have come across a batch of old, blank, vellum somewhere… and also, considering that some of the presumed intentions of said author, it would have actually been a choice more likely than one for your run of the mill herbal or astrological treatise.

Back in 2007 I began looking for examples of blank vellum on the internet. I quickly found a book dealer named Pirages, who was advertising 20 or more sheets of what he described as, “RULED BUT OTHERWISE BLANK VELLUM MANUSCRIPT LEAVES”, which, he said, were from the 16th century. Apparently they were from some book, which was falling apart, because he believed they “were possibly from the previous entry”… a catalog entry which was gone by the time I saw the listing. Unfortunately, all 20+ leaves had also been sold by the time I contacted him, for $35 a piece. The point remains that in 2007, a person with a knowledge of historical ink formulas could have made a 40 page “Voynich Ms.” which would have radiocarbon dated to the 16th century. And, done so, for about $700. That is assuming that these leaves were too small to fold into quires, which would have then allowed an 80 page “Voynich”.


Further searching revealed a book which was and is still on the market, the ” PROTONOTARII APOSTOLICII”, or Bullae et Statuta Officii Septem Sedis Apostolicae Protonotariorum In Curia Romana Participantium. It is offered by Michael Sharpe Rare & Antiquarian Books, for $95,000. This book is entirely in vellum, and was first created in 1523. It was then used for entries, continuously, until over 300 years later, the last entry being 1839. But it is not finished: The book remains for sale, today, with 44 blank leaves, comprising 88 blank pages, measuring about 11 1/4″ x 8 1/4″. So again, if you have the money, and the knowledge of historical inks, your summer hobby could be to make an 88 page Voynich rival… and when Arizona got it’s hands on a sliver or two, it would reliably date it to 1523.

Protonotarii Apostolicii, 1523, with 88 Blank Vellum Pages


Listed in the Huntington Library’s periodical, “Miniature Book News”, #65, June, 1990, is this listing,

“The second volume is an odd little manuscript bound in a metal binding which was probably produced in the late fifteenth century. It contains 154 vellum leaves of which all but three are blank. The page size is 3 7/8 inches by 2 7/8 inches. The text is only three odd leaves from a Book of Hours. The first leaf contains fifteen lines to the page with the capital letters in gold and blue. The text is in Latin. The second leaf contains fourteen lines and is an elaborate leaf with a floral border. The text, in Latin, concerns the Virgin Mary. The third leaf contains fifteen lines to the page with capital letters in gold leaf over various colors. The text is in Latin. Apparently the three leaves in the center of the volume were thickened by the blank vellum leaves in order that they would fit inside the metal binding.”

Well that would make a cute little Voynich, so write small! But at least it would make up for number in what it lacks in size, for you would have a full 302 page book when you were done. And there would be some head-scratching among manuscript scholars after Arizona got through with it (if you mixed your inks well, and not in brass containers, either), for it would apparently date to 1450 to 1500.


In 2008 the British House of Lords had a decision to make. It seems they had some blank parchment left over, after making the decision to finally… after a millenia or more?… stop using it for official purposes. Below is the letter I found.

Dear Mr.Todd,

Thank you for your e-mail of 24 July.

It may be helpful if I clarified the position as far as Acts of Parliament are concerned. William Cowley Ltd. supplies vellum to our printer The Stationery Office. The costs include those for printing.

The unused vellum held by the House administration will be used for the construction of the Roll of the Lords (and not Acts of Parliament). Members sign the Roll when they take the oath.

We do not hold recorded information relevant to your questions concerning the stock of vellum held by the administration. However, I
have spoken to a colleague who deals with the Roll. He informs me that there are approximately 100 sheets. Given the limited use it is likely to take some time to exhaust this supply.

Frances Grey
Freedom of Information Officer
House of Lords

It was probably not very old, I think we might assume. But it was blank, and it was in storage. Should we assume this same case did not exist in 1450, 1500, 1550, 1610, or 1912? Can we assume that for the first time in history, a government agency over-bought vellum, and was not sure what to do with the excess? Do we know that the author of the Voynich Ms. had no access to any such government stores? One is welcome to speculate these cases have always been impossible, up until 2008, but I cannot.


What was the case in the 19th century? I found in the “Royal Commission on Historic Manuscripts”, 1870, page 69, the following listing,

“A series of loose vellum leaves, large folio, once bound together, the boards still remaining… …Next follows, on a series of like vellum leaves, a Calendar, in which the latest date is the 34th Henry 6 (A.D. 1456) of all grants by deed made by the Royal Founder… …Then follows, after some dozens of blank vellum leaves, a Catalogue of the College Library…”

I’ll take “some dozens” to be more than “two dozen”… but let’s be conservative and begin there. We know that in 1870 there existed (and probably does exist, today), 24 to 36 or more blank vellum leaves, equaling 48 to 72 or more blank vellum pages, which would carbon date to pre-1456.


105 Blank Vellum Leaves For Sale

The above screenshot is from a dead link, so I would assume the item has been sold. No estimate for the date of this book was given, and the sellers never wrote back to me when I asked.  But as they are a “Rare and Old Book” seller, this is obviously not referring to some recent product. The description reads,

“Volume of 105 blank vellum leaves of 313 x 205 mm, with 3 blank leaves of paper at beginning and end, in old plain vellum binding, blind triple line fillet on covers.”

Not that I need to point this out, again, but with this little volume, whomever bought it, could make a nice little 210 page Voynich replica.

Look familar? You could have owned all 210 blank vellum pages, last year...

And so on. Every so often, I search the internet for such examples. There are dozens more cases of between one and five or so, blank vellum or parchment leaves left blank, but this of course was standard practice to fill out the ends of books. I did not save those references. But examples such as the ones I list above, are easily found, today. There must be many more cases which I have not found, and which may have not made it onto online lists.

The point is obvious, but I’ll summarize nonetheless: It is very possible that the Voynich could have been created at almost any date after 1438, from old, found, blank vellum. The fact that even today, ancient blank vellum leaves exist in quantity, reasonably implies it would have always been so. If a person desired to create an old-looking manuscript, at any time from the 15th century to today, they could have found a usable pile of old vellum, in the back of an old book, unused ledger, government archives, or a dusty old storeroom. Adding to the proven existence of such vellum is the often assumed importance and value of the Voynich to the creator of it. The vellum was out there, we know… and the Voynich author probably had every incentive to find it, and use it… whoever that was, and whenever they made it, from 1404 until 1912.

C14 Dating of Parchment: Testing the Test in ’72

May 13, 2011

I am, and have been, accepting of the radiocarbon dating results for the Voynich Manuscript, as released by the University of Arizona. Well, at least as far as I believe it is the best possible current method of testing samples of parchment and vellum for age. But I am a skeptic at heart, and a pragmatist by nature, and to not automatically assume the infallibility of science, or of scientists or their methods of experiment. Not being able to test their methods myself, in many cases, I would have to rely on the hope that their methods are correct and accurate. Better yet, in some cases the scientists test themselves, and their own methods and conclusions… and we would hope that when they do, they can be, well, “scientific” about it. I mean, we must even trust them, in this self-regulation.

In the case of the accuracy and value of the radiocarbon dating of vellum, there is at least one, seminal example. The paper is entitled, “Radiocarbon Dating of Parchment” (Nature, volume 235, January 21, 1972). It is a 1972 paper outlining an experiment meant to apply the current radiocarbon testing methods to parchment and vellum, both to determine if it would be an accurate method of determining the age of manuscripts, and also, as a cross check to the dendrochronology of tree rings… itself used as a check of radiocarbon dating methods. I wanted to see the article to learn more about C14, as I was already pretty much in awe of the ability to date vellum, and wanted to learn more about it. But… I have to say I was somewhat shocked at what I found.

In the test, several samples of vellum, with known dates, were radiocarbon dated. The point was to compare the results to the known dates, to see if the radiocarbon results were accurate, and could be used in the future with any accuracy. Here is the list of the results:

But I think there is a problem with these results. Below I’ve broken them down, and commented on them:

1820 ± 40, 1720 ± 30 or 1650 ± 15 for a 1788 document.

Ok, so they had three wildly varying results… peaks I suppose, or whatever they call them, and chose the closest ones, and ignored the 1650 ± 15 result? Why? Because they knew it was from 1788, so 1650 ± 15 must have been wrong… and, by a minimum of 123 years!

1750 ± 20 or 1680 ± 15 for a 1752 document.

Once again, they used the known date to come to a conclusion: One result was dead on, so they rejected the other… which was a minimum of 57, and a maximum of 72, years off.

1650 ± 15 for a 1666 document.

Very good, they got one right. Well, they got one result, which it happens, was correct. If they had no check, though, they would not have known, of course.

1600 ± 30 or 1500 ± 25 for all three of these: 1495, 1579, 1578.

OK now… this is interesting… they got two results, both the same, for three documents… of two very different eras. That alone is somehow disturbing to me. Why would a 1495 sample give the same results as a 1578 sample? That alone is almost 100 years in discrepancy. And then, they chose to feel it was accurate, but seemingly only by applying the 1600 ± 30 to the latter two documents, and 1500 ± 25 to the 1495 one. How do they know their results reflected the assigned ones? Because they knew the date written on them, that is how. But if they did not have the dates, they would, first of all, had a maximum age difference in the results of 155 years! That is, as old as 1475, to as new as 1630. The 1600 ± 30 result, if applied to the 1495 document, would be an error minumum of 75 years, and a maximum of 135 years.

The procedure they used, discarding results based on known dates, actually showed that the tests alone could not be relied on. They would, in effect, have been clueless with undated samples. In fact, although the testers seem to present the results as though “C14 works for vellum”, they actually have this very telling passage:

It is interesting that the radiocarbon dates after correction and calibration for secular variations correspond to thier known historical ages. But the nature of the calibration curve first developed by Suess sometimes permits age ranges or alternative dates rather than unique dates. Consequently, for samples of unknown age it may be necessary to use independent criteria to narrow the choice.

Italics are mine. But the point is, this whole test of the test could be summed up as follows: “If you don’t know the date of a vellum document, C14 will not give it to you. It could be well over a hundred years off.”

That is bad enough, but there are other problems. In the same article it is stated that vellum “…was used for writing within very short periods of time from manufacture”. But how do they know this? For who is to say that in the case of the 1788 document, the vellum was not made in 1650, as one result showed, and that the 1820 ± 40 result was not the one in error? Maybe the vellum was over a hundred years old. I mean, since vellum had not been accurately dated before, then how do they know how long it sat? There is some serious circular logic happening here… first, they assume that vellum was used soon after manufacture, to validate their use of the known date of the sample, which they then compare to several wildly varying results, then pick the one which closely matches the date written on the document, and conclude the test is accurate! It is an assumption used to chose a result, and then that result is used to back up the assumption. The ouroboros of scientific testing…. the snake eating it’s own tail… creating, the snake again.

Well of course the testing in the case of the Voynich may still be very accurate. For the time being, we really have to assume that. Unfortunately for us, though, the official test results have never been released. We do not know if other results came up during the testing, but were discarded, as they were in the 1972 test. And if there were other results, we do not know why they were discarded. In the above test, we can see what criteria they used… they knew the dates, and threw out the results which did not match their expectations. But in the case of the Voynich, for “expectations”, they would have to use the opinion of scholars. That is, whichever Voynich scholar they relied upon, to make that judgment call.